The mastermind

The Super Mario Brother’s themed tifo display carried out by Section 8 Chicago before Saturday night’s match against the Seattle Sounders has become pretty popular. Featured as one of the “Editor’s Picks” on’s front page yesterday, the video has gone viral, being reposted on a gaggle of American soccer blogs and making appearances on European supporter’s sites.

Locally, the Chicago Fire proclaimed Monday on their Facebook page that it was “The best tifo display ever”.

Meet Joel Biden, the tifo’s mastermind who explained to me Monday how his idea blossomed into Saturday’s successful effort so many have seen the past few days.

“I’d been thinking that we should do an animated tifo,” said the Waukegan resident. “I tried to figure out what type of display we could do that would move and where in the season we could use it. I knew Seattle was coming up so you had some built-in themes there: X-box, their colors -- it just struck me -- their stupid rave green kits look like those turtles [in The Super Mario Brother’s]. You could have Mario kill one of those turtles, but if he kills him with Fire – that’s more awesome. That’s how it was born.”

Biden’s idea was without initial support, but with a little physical labor, he slowly got the Independent Supporter’s Association behind the display.

“I shopped the idea around a little bit when we were talking about other displays but no one was really running with it. I just figured I was going to lead by example and make it happen myself so I went out and bought the materials and went at it. I did most of the work late at night during the week, but when I sent the photos around to some of the guys, it really lit a fire under the rest of the section.”

From there Section 8ers stepped up and bought more table rolls, donated tape, and started with the ideas. Volunteers popped up, offering to hold corners, run banners and do the things that needed to be done in order to make an animated display work.

“It was just that spark. The ‘hey, let’s do this,’ that just snowballed from there.”

Though a near flawless display, part of it almost didn’t occur as Mother Nature played a major hazard in the creation of a certain vital piece.

“The wind was a factor throughout the whole thing. We didn’t have a decent indoor space to work in so I did most of the spray painting outside in my driveway – fighting the elements the whole time. The first “Old School” banner I made that was supposed to go across the top in the Nintendo font got completely ruined by the wind and I had to re-do it. It was finished probably 20 minutes before I left for the game – really down to the wire. The whole episode for me was just panic-filled, lack of time, lots of pressure, but it got done.”

As the impressive display was unfurled, those around me in the Toyota Park press box looked bewildered, though as Mario and the enemy turtle rose in front of the Chicago skyline, it became apparent what was about to occur.  

There to take in a soccer match, fans across Toyota Park were treated to an animated display akin to a coming of age band serving as the opening act for a group that inspired their work.

Though Saturday night’s on-field result was forgettable, those that took the stage first left a nice impression. While Saturday’s tifo stands as the most elaborate display the group has carried out, it’s certainly just a piece of what the ISA has done over the years.

“Chicago’s been at the forefront of these things for six or seven years now,” said Biden. “I think we’ve been at the forefront of just about every aspect of supporter culture in the United States, this is just us keeping in line with that.”

Just this year, Section 8 launched a “Tifo Crew”, which plans and carries out the design and actual operation of putting out their displays pre-game. For Saturday night’s display, Biden estimated that it took nearly 25-30 people to pull off the elaborate effort, from people holding the background to the animated elements of Mario, the fireball and his evil nemesis.

“I was impressed that we pulled it all off. There were a lot of hands that had to know what they were doing, where things were going and everyone really impressed me. As for the video, seeing it go viral all over has been great – I’m proud to see the attention it’s received worldwide.”

Want to spitball future Section 8 tifo displays?  Join the ISA at The Pitch Wednesday night at 7pm as they discuss and plan for more tifo possibilities.

Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.